Bridgegate House was intended as a link between the traditional centre of the town at Irvine Cross, and the planned Irvine Centre which was to bridge the river and new dual-carriageway through-road. Subsequent phases, which would have extended the centre west to the railway station and harbour beyond, were never realised.
The first phase of the ambitious redevelopment included pedestrianisation of the Bridgegate and the creation of Bridgegate Square.
Bridgegate House was the first completed building and provided lettable retail and office space for local businesses displaced early in the extensive redevelopment process.
Planning & Design
In plan the upper open-plan office storeys of Bridgegate House are divided into two by a central circulation & service core, with escape stairs at each end. The building’s central division is expressed on the south elevation by a break in the first floor offices, within which a recessed, chamfered and tiled lift shaft ascends into the curtain-walled offices above. On the north elevation a vertical projection of the curtain-walling conveys the position of the principal stairwell within.
The office space on the first floor, beneath sloped bronzed glazing, cantilevers outward, sheltering the pavement below from rain and the shop units from excessive solar gain. The overhang conceals a continuous uPVC-coated precast concrete gutter at the base of the sloped glazing, collecting rainwater run-off from the otherwise unimpeded elevations.
Various parts of the lower storeys project northward, providing service and storage areas for each of the 15 individual shop units. The easternmost of these aligns with pre-existing buildings on the west side of High Street, returning the ‘street wall’ into Bridgegate.
The east end of Bridgegate House’s upper storeys projects into High Street on tiled piloti, and an escape stair visibly descends, creating a ‘pend’ reminiscent of the numerous wynds and vennels which pepper older parts of the town centre.
The two upper office storeys of Bridgegate House are encased in an unbroken curtain-walled skin of bronzed anti-sun glass and black anodised aluminium frames. Contrasting white glazed tiles adorn the externally exposed cast in-situ reinforced concrete frame throughout, providing a continuous and legible expression of the building’s superstructure.
Structural spans correspond with retail unit widths: expressed externally by columns and deep beams which visibly support the substantial cantilever of the first and second floor offices. The ends of these cantilevering beams are bevelled, as is the exposed slab edge, mirroring the slope of the glazing above.
An odd and disappointing aspect of Bridgegate House’s detailed design is the single-leaf brickwork walls which form sills on the office floors. No junction is expressed or even attempted between these and the curtain-walling, with apparently purposeless voids between glass and brick.
Construction drawings specify nothing other than “brick wall flush pointed and painted black on outside face”. The floor-to-ceiling curtain-walling suggests floor-to-ceiling glazing, arguably denying the presence of the sill within.
Similar materials and design were used for the office accommodation above the eastern entrance to the Irvine Centre, and was also to be used for an unrealised hotel, cinema and office complex which would have linked Bridgegate House to the Irvine Centre.
The eastern half of Bridgegate House has recently been refurbished, with comprehensive internal and external remodelling. All original materials have either been removed or concealed. The colonnade and pend at High Street has been filled in, destroying the carefully considered relationship with the pre-existing town.
The western half (“phase two”) is being remodelled at time of writing. The open area between Bridgegate House and the rebranded “Rivergate Shopping Centre” is also being re-landscaped as part of this work.
The current redevelopment recently featured on BBC Scotland’s Reporting Scotland news programme, with a former provost succinctly capturing the prevailing perception of Bridgegate House:
While the upgrading of the internal environment is a thoroughly understandable and even commendable aim of the current redevelopment, as is the improvement of the external public space, it is regrettable that Bridgegate House’s well-considered exterior has been lost in the process.
Ultimately, Bridgegate House has suffered, along with innumerable post-war building projects, from the failure of subsequent phases to be realised, and from the inevitable, incompatible remedial schemes.
Originally, Bridgegate House was to be connected to the Irvine Centre via a cinema, hotel and office complex, which would have formed the northwest corner of Bridgegate Square. However, the site was eventually developed as the Forum Centre, an unarticulated blind box which compromises the riverfront on its west side, and creates a small, purposeless secondary courtyard off Bridgegate Square on its east.
A later two-storey extension mimics Bridgegate House’s profile, materials and design, but with noticeable variations in detailed treatment. Brown brickwork adorns much of the ground floor, with arched openings alien to the Modernist architectural expression of the New Town.
Much of this forgotten corner lies vacant, and has a distinct air of dereliction. It seems a shame that this corner should remain as it is whilst Bridgegate House is given an expensive facelift, apparently for largely aesthetic reasons.